How Big *is* a Billion?

When I taught second grade, two of my favorite math units (and I had many) were measurement and place value. Teaching an 8-year-old about distance–be it time or space–was a difficult concept. Words have little meaning without being able to touch and see them. By connecting counting (tens, hundreds, thousands, millions, billions, and so on) with measurement, it helped the children to encompass meaning. Of course, the larger the number, the more difficult to fully grasp.

For example, to teach the concept of one minute, I’d have the students sit silently with their eyes closed. The task was to clap after they believed a minute had passed. Most kids clapped within 10 to 15 seconds, a few making it near thirty seconds. We’d practice again and again until they got close to the full sixty seconds.

Distance was another concept the kids had trouble with. A mile is a rather profound statement, until you actually walk a mile. But what second grader, in February, will happily walk a mile? (And what school will allow the time or space for that?) Telling the kids that one mile equals 5280 feet doesn’t help them grasp the distance, either. What’s five-thousand-two-hundred-eighty, other than a lot of numbers? Because laying out 5280 twelve-inch papers would be far too long and piling them would be far too heavy, we’d show one hundred of them and say “imagine 528 more.” Still. 528 more is hard to comprehend.

(Note: A total math whiz who claims to have an email address starting with logic@… commented that this math is incorrect. Wow! He or she is correct and I’m so glad he or she caught my error. We should show ten sheets of 12-inch papers and ask the kids to imagine 528 more of these groups of ten. That’s a pretty big difference.)


528 isn’t even a large number to understand, much less a million or a billion. So, we looked to books. The beautiful book by David M. Schwartz and Steven Kellogg, How Much Is a Million?, was my favorite to use in the classroom during these units. Kellogg’s swirly, detailed illustrations used kids and things kids identify with to showcase a million. Even then, it’s pretty hard to imagine just what a million is.


When Big was in preschool, a friend recommended the book How Big Is a Million?. This book concludes with a huge poster showcasing one million stars. It’s difficult to explain the enormity, much less imagine it. And I dared my kids (and you!) to count them all. (We haven’t.) One million stars on a huge poster is a lot of stars.

Now. Imagine one thousand of those to make it a billion.

(This is a sponsored post.)

How Big is a Billion? Contest for teachers

H&R Block’s “How Big is a Billion?” contest is a new educational program that asks teachers to turn the idea of a billion dollars into a math assignment for a chance to win a $3,000 grant. During this program, teachers are invited to submit real-life examples that illustrate the concept of a billion dollars. For example, $1 billion is enough to provide $300 of classrooms supplies for every public school teacher in the US. It’s also enough to provide every US citizen $3 and still have 58 million three hundred thousand left. (Using the 2012 US population of 313.9 milion.) In kid terms, $1 billion dollars would buy 125,156,445 three-topping large pizzas from Dominos (Monday-Thursday pricing). Whoa. That’s a lot of pizza.


The contest runs through March 14, 2014 and to participate teachers must submit a brief explanation and image of the creative concepts. There are three prize categories: Elementary, Middle and High School and each category will be awarded a Grand Prize ($3,000 grant), 2nd place ($2000 grant) and 3rd place ($1000 grant.) Additionally, the first 50 entering educators will receive a $50 Gift Card.

To access the application and official rules and terms, “like” the H&R Block Dollars & Sense Facebook page

Check out the new H&R Block commercial here.

Join the #HowBigIsABillion Twitter Party

Every year, Americans leave a billion dollars on the table when they do their own taxes. That number is so huge it can be hard to visualize. To help people understand just how much money a billion dollars really is, H&R Block has introduced its “How Big is a Billion?” contest, asking teachers to turn the idea of a billion dollars into a math assignment for their students for a chance to win a $3,000 grant. The contest runs through March 14. Join us at the party to learn more!


When: Tuesday, March 11, at 12p ET / 11a CT / 9a PT
Where: We’ll be on Twitter – follow the #HowBigIsABillion hashtag to track the conversation. You can see the details and RSVP via this Twtvite
Hashtag: #HowBigIsABillion
Prizes: We will randomly award five prizes throughout the party, from all eligible correct responses to trivia questions. Each consists of a $200  gift card. (No purchase necessary. Entrants must be legal residents of the United States, 18 years of age or older.)

Follow the Hosts: @theMotherhood, @theMotherhood25, @CooperMunroe, @EmilyMcKhann, @HRBlock (and I’ll participate as a co-host, @juliempron.)

This post and my participation in the twitter party were both sponsored by H&R Block.

Pizza box image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono /

mom of 3 and wife living in the Philadelphia suburbs, Julie is a former elementary school teacher and a Public Relations manager. She is the owner/editor of Julieverse, a merchandiser with Chloe + Isabel ( and founder VlogMom and Splash Creative Media. A marketing strategist and freelance education and parenting writer by trade, Julie attempts to carve out time to enjoy playing with her kids, PTO, cooking and exercise.

© 2014, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.


  1. says

    My kids are enamored with the scale of things so would love those books. I LOVE the idea of this contest! That amount is hard
    for ME to visualize so I look forward to the twitter party!

    • says

      They’re wonderful books, Catherine. My kids LOVE How Big is a Million and the story in it is adorable. I haven’t read How Much is a Million in years… need to pick that one up again.

  2. says

    I love this. My oldest has so many questions about different measurements and numbers. The concepts are hard to wrap your mind around and even harder to explain simply. This is fantastic.

  3. says

    100 12″ paper = 100 ft
    If you say 528 more (of the 100 ft) Gives you 52,800 feet or 10 miles! Not a mile.

    US is falling behind …. Wonder why

    • says

      You know, I have to come back for a second. Because I really did appreciate you pointing out my error. You’re right. It was sloppy. And, yes. I was a 2nd grade teacher and a 4th grade teacher and a 6th grade teacher and I’m currently a parent. And, you’re correct, 52800 is a LOT more than 5280. So, I was appreciative–not only did you take the time to read my post (thoroughly) but you also commented. And, really, the top half of your comment was said so nicely.

      But I’m coming back to comment again because, though I doubt you’ll ever see this because I highly doubt your actual name is “Logic” and your actual email is, I wanted to point out that somehow, somewhere, you took a turn toward, well, rude. You were so very kind in lines 1, 2 and 3. Why must you turn on the rudeness? I mean, I’m fairly certain you’ve made mistakes, too, yes? Are you really this hard on yourself that you had to come down on someone else? I’m so very sorry for you, Logic. I… just wish there was a way to make you a happier person. One who enjoys simply offering a hand to someone else and walking away with a smile, knowing you helped someone today.

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